Professionally known as an accoucheur, a male midwife is a healthcare professional who specialises in giving care to pregnant women and delivering babies. While the midwifery profession has traditionally been dominated by women, men are increasingly entering the field.
Vuyisile Skarfu from the Eastern Cape, is one of the few men working in the women-dominated field. Born the youngest of three siblings in Ilitha township near King William’s Town, Skarfu’s dream was to become a medical doctor specialising in gynaecology. Due to not qualifying for medicine, his career options took a different turn and he ended up falling in love with midwifery.
A turning point
“While still in high school, life sciences, or biology, was one of my favourite subjects. I particularly enjoyed the reproductive system and wanted to specialise in gynaecology. In matric, I did not qualify for medicine, applied late for most programmes, and ended up doing a bachelor of education at Fort Hare. Although I only did it for a year, it was one of my turning points,” he says.
“My neighbours at Res happened to be studying nursing sciences, and I was amazed at the huge books and knowledge they gained at nursing school. Up to that point, I was not really well informed about nursing and what they do, so it was an eye-opener for me. I then looked for a part-time job at KFC to help me raise funds to apply to Nelson Mandela University. I got accepted in 2013 for an extended course in nursing.
“My love for gynaecology then got reignited in my fourth year of doing midwifery. I got an opportunity to sharpen my skills and basically fell in love with the speciality.”
Working with high-risk pregnancies
After completing his honours degree in nursing sciences, Skarfu was placed as a community service professional nurse at Indwe Hospital near Queenstown. After a year in Indwe, he was then transferred to Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane, where he specifically requested to be placed in the labour ward and has been there now for more than three years.
“Our hospital is a regional hospital that caters for high-risk pregnant patients. In our unit, we have four subunits, which are high care, admissions, delivery unit, and the resuscitation or cesarean area. We rotate around these areas during a particular shift.
“In admissions, we see all patients who have visited the labour ward, and we triage the clients depending on where they need to be disposed of. In the labour ward, we mainly receive clients who are in active labour and prepare them for delivery,” he explains.
“We are also responsible for the induction of labour using various methods. In the resuscitation area, or cesarean Section area, the midwife stationed is responsible for receiving babies that are coming out of the theatre for an elective or emergency c-section. They are also responsible for the resuscitation of the neonate or baby if need be. Paediatricians also assist in this subunit when there are problems.”
Breaking down the stigma
Skarfu says the career is not always the first choice for most men, but more men are entering the space and are becoming more and more open to being part of the amazing process of bringing life to the world.
“I happen to have joined nursing at a time when there were more men joining up for the profession, and this has helped to bring down the stigma of seeing a man practising nursing, especially midwifery. We also had a lecturer in the field of midwifery who was a male, and we never found it taboo to have males working as midwives. Even patients love us, so I think more men must come forward to serve mothers and babies for the better.
Skarfu says the experience of delivering a healthy, alive infant who comes out crying has been very rewarding. Despite the blessing behind it, he also highlights that fear is sometimes a big challenge—the fear of being independent, messing up, or having to take responsibility. He says one must always be willing to receive assistance and grab any learning opportunity in the field.
“I would like to believe that nursing doesn’t have a gender restriction and that midwifery is a part of nursing. Hence, we are running away from calling each other ‘sisters’ but rather recognise one another as professional nurses who are highly skilled independent individuals. Male doctors have been dominating the field for a long time, and as with them, accoucheurs are also coming with a sense of professionalism that aims to achieve the goal of providing quality health care to all.”
Embrace unique environment
“I always tell students to not fear the maternity ward but to have a fear of God and a fear of not doing harm to others. This career has taught me that it hurts a lot before you get something very special in life. The calm that follows the birth of a baby is amazing – how the mother forgets all the pain they just went through upon holding their baby.
“More also needs to be done in educational institutions to remove the stigma around midwifery, especially by making it extremely difficult for students to go through the module. These austerity measures aid in driving away potential accoucheurs and midwives from the profession. Males are not unique to the environment but rather add diversity to the available options.”
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